Tag Archive | Self-esteem

Do You Know When You’re Happy?

“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”

Thinking about this song brings back joyous memories of dancing around my family room singing it with my children and perhaps, even having it sung to me as a child. The lyrics are simple and yet so profound – if you’re happy and you know it, show it (feel it, live it, experience it).

This past weekend I tried something that I had never done before. One of my friends invited me to a Tarot card party where an expert would offer private readings. Intrigued, I agreed to attend. During my reading, the woman said something that really struck a nerve with me; she told me that I don’t know when I’m happy.

Interestingly, this thought has been on my mind in recent weeks, ever since I interviewed Dr. Rick Hanson, the author of Hardwiring Happiness. As a result of our discussion, I have been contemplating whether or not I truly feel happiness. Dr. Hanson spoke with me about how we let life pass us by, never realizing the joy of our experiences, thus allowing peace and happiness to elude us. He explained that when we feel pleasure, really let it sink in and focus on it, we are not only happier people in the moment, but we change our brain chemistry resetting it back to its natural resting state – its responsive mode – which refuels and repairs the body, makes us feel peaceful, happy, and loved, and helps us to act with confidence and compassion.

I don’t know when I’m happy. Boy was she right. Even though I know better, I still expend energy reminiscing about family members that have passed on, a marriage that fell apart, betrayals, missed opportunities, time I believe to have been wasted. I rush through my days barely picking my head up to notice all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me, not allowing myself to be content. Then I wonder why I have moments when I feel sad, unfulfilled, lonely, anxious, and depressed. It’s an inside job!

How about you? Do you let yourself feel joy and gratitude or do the good times pass you by? Do you see the blessings in your life or do you ruminate constantly about what’s missing, what you wish you had?

Dr. Rick Hanson’s advice? Spend a few extra seconds concentrating on something happy and joyful. Let the experience linger. Really notice it. Appreciate it. Be grateful for it. If you see a beautiful flower, look at it a few extra seconds. Don’t just glimpse at it and move on to the next thing. Savor pleasant experiences and make this become a daily practice. According to Dr. Hanson, this is all it takes to make a dramatic change in your brain and in your life.

So, next time, when you’re happy, KNOW it, FEEL it, SHOW it and remember to clap your hands, stomp your feet, shout hooray!

Are You Still Looking At A Closed Door?

The past two months have been excruciatingly painful for me on a personal level. An event occurred that led me to believe that I could salvage an important relationship and I spent most of my summer trying to do just that. I did everything humanly possible to put the broken pieces back together and to try to create something new out of it. A relationship that I believed could be wonderful.

In my mind everything was perfectly clear. There was no reason why it couldn’t work out. I had a logical argument and strong feelings so everything made perfect sense. At least to me.

But, sometimes, even with the clearest vision, things don’t go as you plan or as you would like. By hanging on, I set myself up to be hurt on a daily basis, to the point where I could no longer tolerate the pain.

I finally came to the realization that in order for me to survive, thrive, and find peace, I must accept the situation, let it go, surrender, and move on. And while this may be a decision I didn’t want to make, and is perhaps the most difficult thing I will ever do, it will be the most self-loving.

The let it go and move on cycle applies to many areas of life. You may have to let go of a relationship or significant person. Or you may have to release a painful experience like losing a job, a financial loss, or the death of a loved one. Beginning the cycle is difficult because we tend to hang on to what we know – what is comfortable – even if it is pain.

According to spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh, “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

But holding on to the familiar, painful past keeps you stuck and creates an environment in which you can become physically and emotionally sick. You feel the pain day in and day out and that’s no way to live.

Usually we do not decide to release people or events until the pain of holding on is so unbearable that we feel we have no other choice. We are forced to accept the situation and mourn an important part of our life. And this acceptance and mourning is vital in order to thrive; we must let go of the past.

Letting go is an act of will, a decision to let go of the person, event and circumstance. It is the choice to move on. To let go you must surrender your control and admit that you are powerless over other people and situations. Once you relinquish control and accept what is, you can begin to embrace the change and get on with your life. You can learn from the experience and allow it to make you stronger and wiser.

Is it always what we want? Hell no!

Is it easy? No!

Is it worth it? More than you will ever know.

Don’t be afraid to seek help. Find a support group, spiritual director, therapist, coach, or trusted friend. And remember to have faith. I chose to relinquish my control and turn it over to God. Once I stopped begging for what I wanted and decided to ask for the strength to follow what He has planned for my life, my entire perspective changed and I found peace. I am now looking forward to the next opportunity.

As Helen Keller so eloquently stated: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one, which has been opened for us.” Don’t spend so much time looking at your closed door that you miss the wonderful doors that are opening up for you.

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

How many times has someone told you that he or she was going to do something and then it never materialized? How many times have you promised something to another only to let that person down?

Promises are powerful. They are given to fulfill a need of another. When someone makes a promise it is usually made with the best of intentions and in that moment, the person believes that he or she will be able to complete the offer. Then the person goes off like a busy little bee, involved in the tasks of daily life, and his or her words become a distant memory.

The problem is that the recipient of a promise remembers every word said. Often, spoken words are a life jacket to a drowning person and that person clings to them for survival.

After my mother and sister passed away (my last two remaining nuclear family members) and my divorce became final, a few people told me that I would never be alone, that I was a member of their “family”; I was their sister. Surviving unimaginable grief, I clung to those words as a source of comfort. Then, as time passed, holidays came and went, special occasions were celebrated – graduations, birthdays – and no offer of inclusion was made.

My story is just one example of the many letdowns people experience. What about a child who is promised your attendance at a dance recital or sporting event? A boss that is guaranteed a completed task? A friend that is offered help with a problem?

Heartbreak and disappointment are the result of empty words and offers made in haste, even with the best of intentions.

The next time you are about to make a promise think about what you are going to offer. Take time to reflect before you state it. Weigh the pros and cons and examine your life situation to be sure you can fulfill your end of the deal. Think about the long-term ramifications.

Be honest about your capabilities. Stop being a “yes” person or “the big man on campus”. You can’t please everyone and it’s much better to do nothing or say you can’t do something than offer an empty promise.

Examine your motivation for making the offer. Are you trying to make someone feel better for the moment? Do you want to be liked? Are you trying to gain something for yourself?

Remember that your words may only be words to you but to another they can mean the world. If you’re not sure that you can fulfill a promise, then don’t say anything. Adopt the rule in life to say what you mean and mean what you say.

The Miracle of Friendship

A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you. – Elbert Hubbard

Recently someone asked me what I believe are the qualities of a good friend. To be honest, I had to stop and think about this for a while because it is something to which I really hadn’t given much thought. I have always been surrounded by an army of friends, many of whom have been by my side since childhood, so I probably take friendship for granted.

To answer this question, I decided to look at the people in my life to find some commonalities and examine my behavior towards them. In doing so, I compiled this list of what I believe makes a good friend. There are many more qualities that can be added, but I think these are the biggies. Finding someone who embodies these attributes and being this person for another is a true gift.

Loyal to the end. Perhaps one of the best ways to determine true friendship is to see who keeps your secrets. A true friend would never make you the subject of idle gossip and would go to the grave with something you said in confidence. Finding a confidant can be quite challenging, but when you do, cherish that person and hold on with everything you’ve got.

Doesn’t judge. We all make mistakes and do stupid things. A true friend does not judge you and will not treat you differently, no matter what you’ve done. He or she will stand by your side when everyone else has turned against you.

They’ll be the mirror you’re afraid to look into. Sometimes you may not see that you’re involved in harmful behavior, physically or emotionally. You may be in a romantic relationship that doesn’t serve you well, have a dead end job, or be abusing substances. During these times a true friend will tell you things you don’t necessarily want to hear. This person will speak the hard truths and will be someone on whom you can depend for brutal honesty.

Motivates you to do better. A true friend is your best cheerleader. This person is not jealous about your accomplishments and will always encourage you to believe in yourself, because he or she believes in you. This friend challenges you and builds you up, he or she doesn’t tear you down.

Unconditional love. You don’t have to work for a true friend’s affection; the love is not based on what you do for him or her. This person doesn’t care about your financial status or job position. You are loved solely because of who you are.

Always by your side (even when you don’t ask for help). Everyone has times of need, and a true friend will be by your side helping out, or just sitting with you in silence. He or she provides support and comfort and you get through the difficult time just because this person is there.

If You Have Nothing Nice To Say…

If you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all. Ah… a mother’s wisdom. I’m sure most of us have been told this many, many times. But, how many of us actually follow this sage advice?

Words are a powerful force and the powerful effects of negative words cannot be underestimated. Words are remembered long after they are spoken. They have the power to destroy one’s self-esteem and self-confidence, making someone feel less than adequate and fearful. Words leave invisible bruises that can last a lifetime.

Most of us understand that negative words hurt, and yet, how many of us actually stop and think BEFORE making a negative or disparaging comment? Do we ever think about the impact our message has on the recipient or is it so important for our opinion to be heard that the consequences are insignificant to  us?

And it is not only personal comments from others that can be damaging.  Being in the company of people who frequently complain or see the bad in everything can be just as emotionally detrimental.  Such people project a negative energy that soon infiltrates everything and everyone around them.

Case in point. My 18-year-old son recently completed a certification course at our local fire academy and is currently working toward becoming a fireman. This is his dream and he is taking the appropriate steps to that end. He is attending college to earn a degree. He has been a volunteer for two years. He strives to learn everything about his chosen profession. After he completed the certification test, I posted on my personal Facebook page about his status. Someone immediately commented that her son took the test a few years back and is number 5,000 waiting for a job. She went on to say that it is impossible to get a job and anyone who goes into the profession is crazy.

I’m not sure why she made that post. Perhaps she was trying to relay information. Maybe she is upset about the fact that her son has not been hired. Maybe she was having a bad day. I don’t know her motive, but I do know that a comment like that has the power to cast doubt in a young man’s mind, cause him to question his direction, and possibly even shatter his dream.  Once a statement like that gets planted in someone’s thoughts, it’s more difficult to stay on course. How often does this happen to you? How often are you the one making this type of comment or how often are you the recipient?

A new year is approaching and this is a time when many self reflect and try to enact positive change. I encourage you to become more cognizant of what you say. Stop and think BEFORE the words come out. You have the power to impact another positively or negatively. You have the power to be a mentor or cheerleader of a dream, or the destroyer. Remember that mother always knows best and if you have nothing nice to say, pray one of my favorite prayers: “Lord, put your arm on my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.”

The Music Comes On And the Dance Begins

One of the questions that I am often asked by email, via Facebook, or during my lectures, is how to permanently end a relationship with someone that is a negative force in a person’s life. I have heard many terms to describe these types of people, but one of my favorites is energy vampire, because they zap the life out of you.

A relationship doesn’t have to be romantic to fall into the toxic category.

Ending a relationship can be one of life’s greatest challenges. We all have a few people in our lives that we allow to treat us in a manner less than we deserve. Cognitively we know that if we don’t change something, the result will be the same, but once that music starts, we jump right into the same old dance.

Often we have spent many years with these people and the thought of letting go is frightening, so we hold on, even when the relationship no longer serves us well. We take the abuse, we allow ourselves to feel bad, and we compromise our self-esteem. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to release a person from our lives because in the process we encounter  many emotions: guilt at not being a compassionate, forgiving person; fear of being alone; the belief that we’re supposed to take care of others; feelings of inadequacy and of being unlovable.

Relationships should always be treasured and they should not be taken lightly, but after years of the same dance, for the sake of our physical and emotional health, we must recogize when it’s time to change the music and begin a different dance.

Ask yourself these questions: Do I feel energized or drained after being with this person? Do I look forward to spending time together? Do I keep looking for a response or change that I never get? Do I really like this person? Log your responses and emotions.

If you determine the relationship to be harmful then it’s time to end all contact with this person. This may be more difficult if children are involved, however, there are certain behaviors you can stop. Don’t Facebook stalk, drive past the person’s house, or find reasons to maintain contact. Every time you do, you reopen the wounds and make it difficult to move on.

Fill the hole. Find ways to stay busy. Join clubs, exercise, volunteer, or spend time with friends. Do whatever it takes to fill the time that would have been spent with the person.

Surround yourself with positive people. Be around people that support you, lift you up, and reenergize you.

Get help. Seek spiritual or mental health guidance. Join a support group – just make sure it is a positive group and not a bunch of people getting together to complain.

Give yourself a break. If in your heart you believe that you have done all you can to sustain the relationship, it’s time to release it. Don’t blame yourself. Learn from the experience, and wish the person well. You can’t make another person change.

Don’t wallow in hatred or negative feelings. Remember the saying, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

You are a child of God, a wonderful gift to this world. Don’t allow anyone to disrespect you or diminish your self-esteem. You have that power!

If You’re Feeling Helpless, Help Someone

I am a firm believer that when you are going through a difficult situation or experiencing pain, one of the best ways to promote healing is to help another person. Taking the focus off of yourself, even if only for a brief period, works wonders and often provides the distance necessary for clarity in your personal situation. Helping another person is medicine for the soul

I have often spoken about the grief and loss that I have experienced with the death of my family members and divorce, so whenever the opportunity presents itself, I try to follow my own advice.

A few weeks ago, Hurricane Sandy ravaged my home state and the communities in which I spent a great deal of time while growing up. According to forecasters, my home region was a direct bulls eye of the storm. Living through the night of a Hurricane was a scary experience. It was the first time that I was alone in the house during such a terrifying event and I had all kinds of crazy thoughts as I waited in frightened anticipation of what would happen. Would a tree fall on the house and I would be trapped inside with no one here to help me? Would the roof be ripped off the house? Would we flood? Would I be lying dead inside and it would take days before they found my body? How would I handle the situation alone?

When the light came up, I experienced feelings of fear and intense loneliness. I was truly on a path of self-pity! However, as the days followed and I watched the events unfold and saw the extent of the devastation in surrounding communities, I began a shift in my attitude. Instead of feeling sorry for myself and my situation, I counted my blessings for surviving the storm unscathed and only mildly inconvenienced. I began to take the focus off of myself and put it where it belongs … on helping others.

For two weeks I focused on coordinating a relief effort and along with more than 100 volunteers, we were able to collect enough items to fill three large trucks to transport to a few southern New Jersey communities.

During the transport, one of our destination sites rerouted the truck to a different location. Just before reaching the rerouted destination, the truck was stopped by a police barricade where the driver was informed that he could not continue into the town. The truck driver decided to go directly to our second scheduled location. Along the way, while on a road that was not part of our mapped route, the driver stumbled upon a small church with a tent community (yes, displaced people are living in tents). He stopped the truck and met the residents, all of whom had lost their homes and personal belongings. They were struggling to stay warm. The driver unloaded all the items that were earmarked for the original destination, coats, blankets, bedding, clothing, food, and gave them to these people. I believe our truck was guided to that location – directly to the people most in need!

Those are the kind of miracles that happen when you step away from yourself and shift your focus to serving others. I no longer think those crazy thoughts that consumed me for a brief period. Had I not made the shift I would be wallowing in pointless self-pity wasting precious time, and I would have missed watching something positive come from such horrific destruction.

So, the next time you are down, lend your hands or heart to someone else. It is truly the best medicine!